Arthur William À Beckett.

London at the end of the century : a book of gossip online

. (page 5 of 19)
Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 5 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ing in admiring your own device and sneering at the
devices of your neighbours. But, above all, and before
all — whatever your rank in life may be — if you go
abroad amongst the admiring million, be sure "to
leave the baby." On occasions, when London is out
in its millions, there is emphatically (for infants) no
place like home.




Of course, everyone can give a history of the club
movement. It is common knowledge that the mag-
nificent palaces in Piccadilly and Pall Mall, St.
James's Street and Covent Garden, grew out of the
coffee houses kept by such men as White, Brookes
and Boodles. These respected individuals (who
appeared and disappeared in the last century) knew
literally " how to labour and how to wait." I sup-
pose the latest survival of what may be termed " the
club coffee-house " was Evans's in Covent Garden — a
hostelrie that long since has ceased being a name,
and is (alas !) rapidly fading as a memory. " Paddy "
Green has gone, and before he retired, with his
kind wishes for everyone's fireside and his snuff-box,
the collection of theatrical pictures in " the cafe
part " had been scattered far and wide by n sale by
auction. The Punch tabic, and the Fun tabic, and


the corner haunted by Lord Henry Lennox, Serjeant
Ballantyne, and Mr. Lionel Lawson have vanished
into air, and the glees and suppers and "calculating
waiter " are visions of the past. It is true that a
cercle with a Bar-sounding title that was started some
years ago in the neighbourhood of the Temple was of
nearly as informal a character as Evans's, but in other
respects the resemblance between the two establish-
ments was not particularly remarkable. All sorts of
stories are told about this club. One friend was
treating another to numbers of whiskies-and-sodas.
"I really cannot allow you to pay for another," said
the guest. " Then pay for it yourself," suggested the
host. " But I am not a member," urged the guest.
" No more am I ! " was the prompt rejoinder. Then
there were legends of the pockets of the waiters
being deprived of their contents while they (the ser-
vants) were handing round coffee ; and the marker
complained that a member had walked off with
half-a-dozen billiard balls while a star was being
marked at pool. It was said that the committee re-
fused to take any notice of the first offence because
the property of the waiters did not belong to the
club ; but they put up a notice caUing upon " the
gentleman who had taken by mistake " the ivory to
return it to the house steward. I need scarcely say
that many of these amusing stories formed a part of
that magnificent collection of " chestnuts " in the


possession of that most " amusing rattle," Mr. Ben
Trovato. And another of these anecdotes possibly
tells the tale of a gentleman who preferred to belong
to " the five-shillings list of members " instead of
paying the full five guineas demanded from his
companions as the regulation annual subscription.

" How do you manage it ? " asked a friend. " Is it
arranged with the secretary ? "

" Oh no," was the reply. " I give the hall-porter a
couple of half-crowns on Boxing Day, and he passes
one in for the rest of the season ! "

But of course such a state of things nowadays at
the end of the century is utterly impossible. I suppose
I must be writing of a time when the " admission
gratis " coffee house was maturing into the proprie-
tary club, with its safeguards of committee, candi-
dates' book, ballot box, entrance fees, and first year's
donation payable in advance.


A few lines about political clubs. Of course, the
Carlton, Conservative, and Reform, to say nothing
of White's and Brooks's, are right enough. And to
the list may be added I suppose " the Juniors,"
although some people say that it takes a good twenty
years to weed a newly-started party circle. I have
so many friends in the Junior Carlton that I would


not wish to say a word condemnatory of the past of
that most comfortable institution, still, a glance at the
Candidates' Book of 1899, in Pall Mall, would no
doubt reveal names and professions very different from
the names and professions that used to appear in
earlier volumes. The Junior Carlton of Pall Mall is
a vast improvement on the Junior Carlton that occu-
pied the premises of the Old Parthenon on the
Regent Street side of Waterloo Place. In days to
come the same no doubt will be said of other politi-
cal Juniors. Like good wine, they will improve as
years roll on. Rome was not built in a day, and the
prestige of a club cannot be obtained with the same
celerity as marble, morocco, Turkey carpets, and the
electric light. And here I may suggest that the
young man from the country should be a little
careful of joining clubs that advertise and circularise
for members. Dover Street and Albemarle Street
are famous for these mushroom societies. When I
was a boy I was induced to belong to a club called
by a Service title. I fancy we started in Dover
Street. Soon we (I mean the owner) prospered, and
took a house in Pall Mall. It was a beautiful house,
divided from the Guards by the premises of the
London Joint Stock Bank (in those days partly used
for a boarding house), and the principal entrance was
garnished with medallions of Nelson and Wellington.
We did not get on, however, very well in our new


diggings, and one day someone called us unkindly
the " Junior Criterion," upon which we collapsed. I
need scarcely say that I had left the club long before
the final disaster.


Leaving mushroom clubs, I turn my attention to
the Bohemian communities with which I fancy the
Eccentrics would be proud to claim kinsmanship. I
hope I am divulging no confidences when I hint that
the Eccentrics themselves, although scarcely ten
years old, can look back to a history which com-
menced with the initial year of the nineteenth century.
In 1800 there was an Eccentric Club, which flourished
until 1846. All sorts of great people belonged to it
— judges, peers, and wits. I fancy (and now I speak
under correction) that Lord Denman was a member.
I am under the impression that not only Sheridan
but Sheridan Knowles were on the list. By the way
the latter " turned serious," and scorned the plays he
had written with as much contempt as their modern
audiences. And the fact that the Eccentric is a re-
vival reminds me that there was another Beef Steak
before the establishment of that charming institution
which once had its quarters over " the front of the
house " at Toole's Theatre in King William Street.
My friend, Sir Henry Irving, has. I fancy, the original

silver g„ll of the ancient society, and before now I
have sat :n the club-room on the prompt s:de of the
Lyceum Theatre wherein the wits of the eighteenth
century used to congregate for the consumption of
port and the discussion of the affairs of the nation
both over and under the table. The revived Steak
was originated in the rooms of the late R. Corney
Gram. These chambers were in Pall Mall Place and
were situated over a suite of palatial apartments' be-
longing to one of the finest journalists, novelists
dramatists, and essayists of modern times. For the
moment I forget his name, but, during the Commune
he was called in Paris (where his writings were as'
well known as in town), no doubt on account of his
defence of all that was hateful to the Communist
cause, " le Monstre." He was a fine fellow, this great
journalist, and was an original member of that Steak
when his friend (the late R. Corney Gram) called the
society into revived existence. Among other works
of great importance, he was the author of " Green-
room Recollections."


Then there was the Savage, and a little later the
Arundel. I have belonged to both and can testify to
the delightful hours spent in the neighbourhood of
Covent Garden and Salisbury Street, Strand. The



history of the Savage is given in the preface of the
first volume of the Savage Club Papers. I was
looking at the volume only the other day, and
admiring the frontispiece. It contained any number
of portraits. The Savages were grouped round the
offspring of their brains. In the centre was that
magnificent figure of an old Bohemian, Dr. Strauss.
Round about him were crowded Halliday, Jeff
Prowse, J. C. Brough, H. J. Byron, George Rose,
Harry Leigh, Artemus Ward, Blanche, Tom Robert-
son, Clement Scott, John Holingshead, George
Cruikshank, and Tegetmeier. Quite in the back-
ground were two writers who have since come well
to the front. It was natural enough to see them side
by side, for their fathers (both eminent men of
letters) had been the staunchest of staunch friends.
The first of these workers in the background was
Mr. W. S. Gilbert, and the other (to give him his
French title) was " Monsieur Chose." I had the
honour of contributing almost my first story to the
Savage Club Papers. It was simply beautiful It
contained a duel, a murder, an abduction, and all
sorts of horrible incidents, and had the cheerful title
of " Found Drowned."

" Is it to be illustrated } " I eagerly asked the

" Yes, my dear fellow," replied Andrew Halliday.
" I forget what the cut was about, but I know it fits


in excellently. I am sure you will be charmed when
you see it. Of course it was not drawn for the
story, but it is most appropriate. Look out for a
pleasant surprise."

I did ; and on the publication of the Papers dis-
covered that " Found Drowned " had been illustrated
with a sketch of an idiotic stork standing on one leg
in a puddle in front of a feeble waterfall ! When 1
complained to Andrew Halliday afterwards he said,
in a sorrowful tone, " So like you young authors, you
are never satisfied ! And I so considerate, too ! If
I had given it to you to be written up to it would
have completely spoilt your story ! You, with your
duels and murders and the rest of it, didn't want a
stork on one leg. Not you! The story was better
without it ! "

I did not reply, but my heart (in its own fashion)
consented. Thinking the matter over now, I am
convinced that Andrew Halliday was a model editor.
His motto seemed to be " acts, and then (if necessary)

The Arundel was also a delightful gathering of
lawyers, wits, and actors. However, it lacked the
entertainments of the Savage, and never rushed into
amateur theatricals. The gentlemen with the fierce
titles and kindly hearts once appeared before the
Queen and the late Prince Consort in a piece written
by themselves and played by their own company.




To justify the title of this chapter, I jot down
the modus operandi of starting a social club. Get
a small committee (say a dozen) of really popular
men. Get each of the committee to secure twenty
really popular candidates. Elect them, and they,
with their proposers and seconders, will form the
list of original members. Make your annual sub-
scription as small as you can. Take rooms well
within the resources of the club, and furnish plainly
and comfortably. Get a good paid secretary
(honorary work is never quite satisfactory), and let
him labour his hardest. Pill a few doubtful candi-
dates, inclusive (if possible) of a questionable peer.
And when you have got to this stage you will find
that the club is self-supporting.




It must not be supposed for a moment that when I
head this chapter with its chosen title, that I propose to
treat of second-rate clubs or cercles of questionable
respectability. I wish only to deal with that sort of
" clubland " that is to be found in London, from the
end of August until the close of September. At that
time town is supposed to be empty, and conse-
quently all members are imagined to be on the Conti-
nent, or away shooting, or at the seaside. As a matter
of fact, a very large number of Londoners are tied
by the leg to their customary habitation, and it is
those unfortunate people who feel the inconvenience
of being guests against their will, or hosts contrary to
their inclination. Without being grossly selfish, I
thmk a man may claim to take his leisure at his inn
which is old style for enjoying himself at his club!
That he can do that in a temporary home is question-


able. Away from his favourite haunts, and finding
famihar faces lost in a crowd of strangers, he feels
like the lady who mislaid the lost chord — " weary and
ill at ease." There is no luncheon table sacred to a
select set, and even there is a difficulty in finding a
" chatable corner " in the smoking room. So, until
his own club emerges from a condition of closure
for " alterations and repairs," he refrains from
visiting Pall Mall, Piccadilly, or St. James's Street ; or
makes up his mind to go abroad. When " the Senior "
absorbs the Bishops', and " the Junior " migrates to
St. James's Square, matters become rather mixed in


I suppose there are no worthier set of men than
club secretaries, and yet it is said that many of the
West-end cercles would remain open all the year
round were it not that the *' honorary members "
wanted a little shooting in August and September.
I think the suggestion scarcely fair. On most House
Committees there is a committee-man who would will-
ingly undertake to act as locum tenens for " the ad-
jutant of the club." Colonel Chose or ** good old
Gooseberry " are always available. Both know the
average cost of the servants' board (after taking into
consideration the " leavings " of the coffee-room), and


both are ready to deal with " backed bills " and the
other grievances incidental to cercle humanity. Chose
for many years was president of his regimental mess,
and " good old Gooseberry," before he became " Resi-
dent " to His Highness of Chutneypore, was an A.D.C.
to the Governor-General, so they are equally qualified
to perform the responsible duties incidental to the
proud position of secretary to the Parthenon. Still,
closure " for alterations and repairs " saves a world
of trouble, and Colonel Pillington, under those con-
ditions, finds it unnecessary to ask a favour of any-
one. By Colonel Pillington I mean the average club
secretary. He gets from ;^300 to ;^6oo a year, and
has been selected from about a thousand candidates.
Many years, ago, as a member of the committee of a
well-known West-end club, I had to assist in the selec-
tion and election of a secretary. We had any number
of applicants for the post — generals, colonels, bar-
risters, and a couple of baronets. Strange to say, no
sailor applied, and retired members of the Civil Ser-
vice were also conspicuous by their absence. The
selection of six " possibles " was entrusted to a sub-
committee, who duly reported to the main body. The
half-dozen containing the secretary-elect were duly
summoned to meet their electors face to face. Our
chairman put several test questions, one of which was
" Whom do you consider the most important person-
age in the club ? " Five answered '' The chairman of


the committee " ; the last " The cook." We elected
the gentleman whose appreciation of the ** chef "
showed that he fully understood club requirements.


There is one club in London that has the reputa-
tion of never closing its doors from one year's end to
the end of another. I refer to the Garrick. But I
am afraid that the reputation is not entirely merited,
because a few years ago the " pleasantest cercle in
town " did shut up for a few weeks to carry out some
structural alterations indispensable to the comfort of
its members. But even then the Garrick proudly re-
fused to ask for shelter elsewhere. The famed coterie
of Covent Garden does not exchange hospitalities
with kindred institutions for an excellent reason. If
you accept favours you must confer them. No doubt
the Athenaeum would be glad to shelter the Garrick,
but it is just possible that the sacred smoking-room,
with its Clarkson Stansfield over the mantelpiece and
its John Gilbert between the windows, is full enough
at all events to do without an invasion of scientists
and ecclesiastics. Be this as it may, the Garrick
neither grants nor seel^ hospitality. With the soli-
tary exception to which I have referred, it has been
continuously open for something like half a century.
May its shadow never grow less. That shadow was


wont to fall in King- Street, but nowadays it darkens
the pavement of a rue christened in the club's honour.


And when I write of the Garrick I am naturally
reminded of that excellent substitute for a cercle —
unconventional and yet select— that used to flourish
within a stone's throw of its handsome and massive
portals. I refer once more to Evans's in the days of
" Paddy " Green — ^when Lionel Lawson and Henry
Lennox, Ballantyne and " Ponny " Mayhew used to
congregate near the fireplace in the cafe. There
never was a better club-house — without entrance
fee and without subscription — than "the Supper
Rooms." Go when you would you found "every-
one in town." There was only one rival meet-
ing-place, and that was the long smoking room
of the Raleigh, when that coterie of warriors
and ex-warriors used to "keep" under the old
Gallery of Illustration in Regent Street. But
the company of the club was limited, and the habitues
of the Supper Rooms numberless. " Paddy " Green
had been an old actor. He had played the Charlie
in the theatrical adaptation of "Tom and Jerry"
when the piece was produced at the Old Adelphi.
He was consequently full of anecdotes of Yates,
Keeley, and Power. Hanging to the walls of the


cafe part of the building were any number of theatri-
cal portraits. Some of them were of considerable
merit, others sad daubs. I wonder what became of
them. They were sold by auction when Evans's lost
its licence. Who were the purchasers? I fancy that
my accomplished friend, Sir Henry Irving, got some
of them, but of this I am not sure. But with or
without pictures, Evans's was a pleasant and interest-
ing place, and never so popular as when regular club-
land was disorganised by " alterations and repairs."


When the cercles are exchanging courtesies the
value of the hall-porter is fully felt. This useful
official is expected to know every member by sight,
and to be particularly on the alert when his gentlemen
are guests. At one time I belonged to some thirteen
clubs — in the days of the long ago when the latch
key was more in requisition than at present — and
some of those I visited not more than once or twice
a year. And yet I was always known. Since then
gigantic cercles have sprung up, with three times as
many members as the normal total of a large West-
end club of the first class, and yet the subscription
payers are recognised and passed. It may be taken
that two thousand is the outside total of a recognised
" co-operative palace." At two large places, one in


Piccadilly and the other on the Thames Embankment,
I believe the number is doubled if not trebled. Fancy
a hall-porter being expected to know and recognise
as belonging to members of his club six thousand
faces ! And yet I believe this is not only a possibility
but an actuality. There is only one story on record
of a non-member gaining admission to a club and
using it as his own. The enterprising individual,
however, on attempting to change a bogus cheque,
was discovered and promptly arrested. The club in
which he was run to earth was, of all places in the
world, the Guards — the smallest and most select spot
in all clubland !


The exchange of courtesies is the natural outcome
of kindred tastes and political opinions. The Carlton
absorbs its junior, and the Guards accepts hospitality
from and gives it to its vis-a-vis the Marlborough.
The Oxford and Cambridge is on visiting terms with
the Old University, and the Union and the Travellers
are frequently friendly. Of late years the Service
clubs have been slightly at loggerheads. The Rag,
once great " pals " with the Junior, has arranged
with the Naval and Military, a cercle that for about
a couple of years had a habitation without a name
within the hospitable walls of the J.U.S.C. Nowa-


days those who Hve in Cambridge House have no
room for their hosts, and act accordingly. For all
that the Junior is happy in joining hands with the
East India, the spot sacred to the most excellent of
curries. Brooks's, White's, Boodle's, Arthur's, and the
other " social " clubs select partners without difficulty.
After all, the closure only lasts a month or six weeks,
when every member, according to the strict rule of
the game, should be out of town.

And when the period is over the return to the reno-
vated club-houses is pleasant indeed ; for that return
means familiar haunts to habitues, and to all the rest
the meeting of old friends and the absence of




Everyone of any status in Town (especially if he
has remained a bachelor until years of discretion) has
a "second club." And that he has what may be
termed " an alternative cerclel' proves the customary
proprietary right in a first or principal co-operative
palace. As a matter of course, a youngster, when he
leaves school or the university, is put up by his father
or some near relative for some appropriate survival
of the old coffee houses of the Georges. If the boy
is destined for the Church his name naturally appears
on the books of the Oxford and Cambridge, or the
" Old University " in Suffolk Street. If he is to
belong to either of the Services, he chooses the
Junior United Service, the Naval and Military, or
the Rag. If he is simply to remain a country gentle-
man, then the doors of White's, or Brooks's, or
Boodle's are open to him. Of course, if he is to be


a fervent politician he must choose the Carlton or
the Reform, the Conservative, the Constitutional, the
National Liberal, or (perhaps) the Devonshire. And
having got himself elected to any one of the estab-
lishments to which I have referred, he is in a position
to look about him for a " second club."


In these days of rapid growths, I am not quite sure
that such old-fashioned institutions as the Union,
the Windham, and the Raleigh, would care to be
called " second clubs," and yet thirty years ago they
certainly had no claim to be put on a par with the
Carlton. But in the long ago of the sixties a man
would call his second club " a pot house." He did
not mean to degrade his junior cercle to the level of
a tavern, but merely to imply that he had been
elected to something better. Nowadays he would
perhaps hesitate about the description as the old-
fashioned " seconds " are sometimes so much
worthier than the new-fangled " firsts."


It may be accepted, I think, that Englishmen are
naturally " clubable." Some little while since I was
looking through a small book which purported to
give all the clubs in the world. It really contained a


vast amount of information, but the sum total of the
news was this — that Enghshmen had their clubs all
the world over. It seems the right thing to do. Say
that Brown, Jones, and Robinson visit a hitherto
undiscovered island. After taking possession of it
in the name of the Sovereign they begin to develop
it. The operation entails the presence of Smith,
Snooks, Jones, and McTab. There comes hundreds
more, and after their arrival, thousands. Churches
and chapels spring up side by side with shops and
factories. Villas begin to appear on the outskirts of
what was once a desert, but is now a rising town.
Then the following conversation is held.

" I say, Jones," says Brown, " were you a member
of the Garrick ? "

" No, I managed through being put down by
my godfather to get into the Athenaeum ! "

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 5 of 19)